As South Carolina increases testing for COVID-19, there will be more laboratory-confirmed cases. This means our state will need to increase the extent of our contact tracing, and we are prepared to do so.
Contact Tracing as a Key Strategy in the Fight Against COVID-19
What is Contact Tracing?
Contact tracing is a standard disease control measure that has long been used by public health professionals as a key strategy for stopping the spread of diseases like COVID-19. Specifically, it is the process of interviewing those who have tested positive for the virus, determining people who have been in close contact with that positive individual and connecting with those close contacts to gather further information and provide guidance to help them stay well while limiting spread of the disease. This extensive contact tracing process helps cut short the transmission of the disease within a community.
How Does DHEC Use Contact Tracing?
Contact tracing isn't new to DHEC. During normal operations, we have approximately 20 contact tracers who perform this methodology to help limit the spread of diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis. Our infectious disease experts investigate hundreds of disease outbreaks.
As part of our COVID-19 response efforts, we have increased our number of contact tracers from 20 to 400 as of May 11, 2020. We perform contact tracing for every positive case of COVID-19 in our state.
As we enhance our testing efforts, South Carolina has set goal of increasing our total number of contact tracers to 1,000 by June. At this time, we have excess staff capacity in this area as we scale up our number of contact tracers in anticipation of increased testing availability.
Who is a Contact Tracer?
Contact tracers are trained personnel who:
- Contact a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 and conduct an interview and explain the need for isolation.
- Collect information including close contacts who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and notify them of their potential exposure and monitor them for symptoms.
- Perform regular follow-up and monitoring activities and help ensure the safe quarantine of the close contacts.
- Link those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts to supportive services, including medical and social resources.
In a nutshell, contact tracers contact, educate and help to locate those potentially exposed to the virus so that they can take action to limit the spread of the disease. While it helps to have a public health background, it isn't a necessary requirement. Contact tracers receive extensive training. Those interested in becoming a contact tracer need to have good interpersonal skills and have the ability to interact professionally with culturally diverse individuals during a time of crisis and distress.
DHEC's Contact Tracing Team
Thank you, South Carolina! Between the public's interest in joining our contact tracing team and contracts with private firms, the state has thousands of contact tracers available to assist with the COVID-19 response. We have no unmet needs for contract tracers at this time, and we continue to perform investigations for every reported positive case in the state.
- CDC - Contact Tracing to Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic
- ASTHO - A Training for COVID-19 Contact Tracers